Just because we go to our dentists for oral health concerns and physicians for overall health concerns, it doesn’t mean there’s no connection between the two.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the mouth is definitely the gateway to the body. What we eat affects our health, as well as other mouth-related habits like smoking or nail-biting, and problems in overall health may show their first obvious symptoms in the teeth and especially the gums. It’s easier to maintain good overall health by maintaining good oral health, and vice versa.
According to the CDC, as many as half of American adults have some form of gum disease. In its early stage, gingivitis, it’s the result of plaque building up and irritating the gums, causing swelling, tenderness, and infection. Over time, gingivitis can worsen into periodontitis, which weakens the support structures around the teeth. Studies have suggested a link between gum disease and a number of chronic conditions.
Nearly a quarter of diabetics also have gum disease. Diabetes makes it more difficult for the body to fight off harmful bacteria, which makes it easier to develop gum disease and harder to keep it under control. Gum disease, in turn, can make it harder to control blood sugar levels and manage the diabetes.
Researchers have found that men with gum disease are 30% more likely to develop blood cancers, 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, and 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Cancer treatments themselves can have an impact on oral health as well. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can have side effects like dry mouth, sensitive gums, sores in the mouth, and jaw and facial pain.
The reasons for this are not yet clear, but heart disease and gum disease have a tendency to go hand in hand. As many as nine in every ten people with heart disease also have gum disease. One theory is that inflammation is the link between these two conditions.
Beyond these types of conditions, gum disease is also linked to osteoporosis, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, certain lung conditions, and even stroke. Gum disease in pregnant women is also linked to preterm births and low birth weights.
All these connections between gum disease and chronic diseases can seem scary, but gum disease is preventable when we maintain good daily habits like brushing for two full minutes twice a day and flossing daily. Just as important is scheduling regular dental appointments and keeping the dentist up-to-date on our medical histories!